Former Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig has agreed to plead guilty to lying to federal authorities investigating an illegal sports-gambling ring, according to court documents unsealed Monday.
Puig, 31, will plead guilty to one count of making false statements, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in federal prison, the U.S. attorney’s office for the Central District of California said. He has agreed to pay a fine of at least $55,000 and is set to make an initial court appearance Tuesday.
The Cuba-born Puig, who plays professional baseball in South Korea, also faces immigration proceedings that could prohibit him from entering the U.S. again.
Federal authorities had been investigating an illegal sports gambling operation run by Wayne Nix, a former minor-league baseball player who lives in Newport Beach, when Puig lied in interviews about his involvement, according to the plea agreement.
In 2019, Puig began placing bets through a third party working for Nix and soon racked up debt of more than $280,000, according to the plea agreement. After paying off part of the debt, Puig placed hundreds of bets on tennis, football and basketball through websites connected to Nix’s ring. The plea agreement did not specify whether Puig bet on baseball.
The third party, a former collegiate baseball player and private coach referred to in court documents as “Agent 1,” placed and accepted bets for Nix’s business, whose client list included current and former professional athletes, the court documents said.
Puig, who was traded from the Dodgers to the Cincinnati Reds in December 2018 and from the Reds to the Cleveland Guardians in July 2019, met Agent 1 at a youth baseball camp in January 2019, the documents said.
“Beginning no later than May 2019, defendant began placing bets on sporting events with the Nix Gambling Business through Agent 1,” the documents said.
Puig called and texted Agent 1 to place bets, according to the plea agreement. After Agent 1 got Puig’s wagers, Agent 1 submitted the bets to Nix’s bookmaking operation.
Puig owed Nix’s business $282,000 by June 17 of that year, according to the documents.
Another private coach who helped Puig with batting practice, referred to in the plea agreement as “Individual B,” was working with Agent 1 to collect Puig’s gambling debts. From June 25 to July 3, Agent 1 and Individual B sent texts to Puig telling him to make a check or wire transfer payable to another person, “Individual A,” a client of Nix’s business who was owed at least $200,000 as of June 2019, the plea agreement said.
Puig withdrew $200,000 from a Bank of America branch in Glendale on June 25. He took out two cashier’s checks for $100,000 each that were payable to Individual A but didn’t immediately send them due to a dispute, the documents said.
From June 28 to July 4, Puig asked for direct access to gambling websites run by Sand Island Sports, which Nix and Agent 1 used to create accounts for clients to place bets, according to the plea agreement. Nix refused, saying that he needed to pay his debts first. Puig sent the cashiers’ checks to Individual A on July 3, and Nix gave Puig direct access to the gambling websites the next day.
From July 4 to Sept. 29, Puig placed 899 bets on tennis, football and basketball games through the Sand Island Sports websites, the documents said.
When federal authorities interviewed Puig with his attorney on Jan. 27, 2022, he “made several false statements to the agents that were material to the investigation,” according to the plea agreement.
“For example, the agents presented defendant a photo of Agent 1 and asked defendant if he ever discussed sports gambling with Agent 1. Defendant falsely stated that he had never discussed sports betting with Agent 1 and that he knew Agent 1 only from baseball.”
When the agents showed Puig a copy of one of the cashiers’ checks he’d sent to Individual A, Puig said he placed a bet online with “an unknown person on an unknown website” and that he lost $200,000, the plea agreement said.
“In fact, as defendant then knew, defendant placed a series of bets directly through Agent 1 that resulted in the gambling loss,” the documents said.
Puig also lied about not knowing who told him to send $200,000 in cashiers’ checks to Individual A and said he never communicated with that person by text message, the plea agreement said.
“On March 14, 2022, defendant sent Individual B an audio message via WhatsApp regarding his January 2022 interview with [federal agents],” the documents said. “During the audio message, defendant told Individual B that he ‘[sat] over there and listen [to] what these people said and I no said nothing, I not talking. I said that I only know [Agent 1] from baseball.’”
Nix, 46, pleaded guilty April 11 to one count of conspiracy to operate an illegal sports gambling business and one count of filing a false tax return, prosecutors said. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for March 8.
Four other men also previously pleaded guilty to federal charges in the Nix case.
On Monday, authorities also filed a plea agreement for former MLB player Erik Kristian Hiljus, 49, who “was an agent for Nix’s illegal gambling business but did not work with Puig,” prosecutors said.
Hiljus agreed to plead guilty to two counts of subscribing to false tax returns and will face up to six years in federal prison upon entering his plea.
Puig could be barred from reentering the U.S. because he is not a citizen.
“The conviction in this case makes it practically inevitable and a virtual certainty that defendant will be removed or deported from the United States,” the plea agreement said. “Defendant may also be denied United States citizenship and admission to the United States in the future.”
Puig may be able to plead his case in immigration court, but “removal is presumptively mandatory and a virtual certainty in this case” the documents said.
“Removal and immigration consequences are the subject of a separate proceeding and that no one, including his attorney or the Court, can predict to an absolute certainty the effect of his conviction on his immigration status,” the plea agreement said.
Puig’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment about the plea deal.